“Come, Holy Spirit, descend upon this place and upon us, and fill us with the fire of your love.” Amen.
Today we celebrate Pentecost—the coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, and the spread of the Spirit’s power and love throughout the world. We are also marking the end of our program year, and our young people are participating in the service, reading lessons and prayers, among other things. And then there are two baptisms as well. Such a celebratory feeling seems like a respite from our world. To rejoice, to come together as the body of Christ across all of the generations takes away from the distress and despair in the world around us.
Over the last months, years, really, it seems the world’s news has been getting ever more grim. Just this week, we saw the horrific images of Palestinians being shot at the Gaza border; there was yet another school shooting, this time in Santa Fe, TX—there was a report that more American schoolchildren have been killed in shootings in 2018, than members of the Armed Services, combat or non-combat have been killed in the same period. We have witnessed the demonization and dehumanization of immigrants and people of color, both disheartening and apparently increasing day by day.
But in the middle of that constant, apparently never-ending barrage of despairing news, some of us took time yesterday to watch the spectacle of a royal wedding, and in the midst of that, we heard an address by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry about the power of love. Drawing from scripture, MLK, jr., the old spiritual “There is a Balm in Gilead” as well as the Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin, Bishop Curry reminded us of God’s love, about the power of love, made evident in the love of two people for each other, but a power of love, evident in creation, in Jesus Christ. He invited us to imagine the power of love:
Well, think and imagine a world where love is the way.
Imagine our homes and families when love is the way.
Imagine neighborhoods and communities when love is the way.
Imagine our governments and nations when love is the way.
Imagine business and commerce when love is the way.
Imagine this tired old world when love is the way.
When love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.
When love is the way, then no child would go to bed hungry in this world ever again.
When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.
When love is the way, poverty would become history.
When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.
When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside
to study war no more. (full text and video available here:
Bishop Curry’s sermon, or “address” as it was titled in the order of service, not only interrupted what till then, in spite of the presence of the bride herself, a bi-racial American, was a rather typical Royal wedding, with lots of nobility, fascinators, and lovely music. It interrupted our world, reminding us that not only was this wedding something special, but that love, God’s love is something special as well. Bishop Curry offered us hope in the midst of our difficult times and problematic culture and proclaimed to us the love that is at the heart of the universe, at the heart of God, the love that has the power to transform the world.
We see the power of that love on display on this feast day—the Feast of the Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit poured out on the disciples who were gathered together and transformed them into powerful messengers and preachers of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
We see the power of that love on display here at Grace, as we rejoice in the Spirit’s working in the lives of our children and young people and see them sharing their gifts in our worship. Many of them participate in our services every Sunday, but today they take on new roles and responsibilities as they remind us of their inclusion in the body of Christ and their importance to us, not only as the future, but as our present.
We also see the power of that love on display as two families bring their children to be baptized, to be welcomed as God’s beloved children and to be sealed as Christ’s own forever.
On this feast of Pentecost, we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit, in tongues of fire, hovering over the heads of the disciples, filling them not just with the Spirit’s power and life, but also giving them suddenly miraculous abilities. As Peter preaches, he reminds the gathering that this is a sign of a new age when the spirit would no longer be confined to the avenues and vessels in which it had been bottled up, but that it would pour out on all flesh, indiscriminately, on men and women, young and old, slave and free.
The gospel reading gives us a slightly different perspective on the spirit’s role and power. Instead of a rushing wind and tongues of fire, here we see something quite different. The Spirit is called an Advocate, and it’s clear from the context that advocate in the sense of attorney is meant. The Spirit is an advocate who will testify on behalf of Jesus Christ after his departure from his disciples. The Greek word behind the translation of advocate is Paraclete, literally “one who calls alongside.”
One important aspect of the Paraclete’s work is to continue to teach the disciples, and those who follow after them, the beloved community. In fact, Jesus says in a rather startling way, “It is to your advantage that I go away, because if I go away, I will send the Paraclete to you.” And the Paraclete, the Advocate, the Comforter, will lead you, lead us, into all truth.
It is that Spirit that these two babies will be sealed with in their baptism, that Spirit that will accompany them, just as it accompanies us now. They are at the very beginning of their lives, with apparent infinite possibilities lying ahead of them. At the same time, the world they have entered is a dangerous, difficult place with countless challenges and a very uncertain future, not only for our culture and way of life, but for the planet itself.
In such a context cynicism, anger, and fear are appropriate, understandable, and natural responses. The temptation to close in around oneself and one’s loved ones can be overwhelming. The desire to seek what’s best for one’s self and one’s family and ignore the problems of the world beyond one’s door, or one’s neighborhood, or tribe, or nation, can blind us to the needs of those unlike ourselves.
In our baptismal vows, I will ask all of you, parents, godparents, and the assembled congregation the following question: “Will you respect the dignity of every human person?”
It’s a question that has particular urgency in our day as the hate and vitriol spews forth like a flood and the dehumanization of our neighbors, people of color and immigrants continues to escalate. In baptism, we Christians are making the claim that we are all children of God, created in God’s image, that we are all equal, as Paul says, Jew and gentile, male and female, slave and free. In baptism, we create a new community that extends beyond all human differences, uniting us as God’s children, and God’s people, and reminding us that there are no differences among us, that we are called to be a people from every nation, language, and ethnic group.
In baptism, we are not only changed or transformed, we are given the responsibility to grow ever more deeply into the knowledge and of love of God, to be recreated in God’s image. We are also, all of us, called to participate in the creation of God’s beloved community, called together from all corners of the world, into a community, created by, sustained, sharing God’s love.
Yesterday, Bishop Curry prophesied a vision of a world animated and shaped by love. He invited us to imagine a world where love is the way. Today, as we baptize these two babies, we catch a glimpse of such a world, animated, shaped by love as the water pours over their heads and they are bathed in God’s love.
Witnessing their baptisms reminds us all that we too have been bathed by God’s love, changed by God’s love. May the Holy Spirit that seals these two babies as Christ’s own forever, inspire us to know God’s love, to share God’s love, and to imagine and bring into being a world where God’s love is the way.